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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Interview: Monique le Roux talks about Be Kind

Monique has always been a lover of poetry and animals. She wrote her first unpublished book (not surprisingly about being connected to nature) at the age of 13 and doodled poetry at school when bored with the lessons! Monique has studied Zoology, Animal Welfare and Canine Behaviour and Training – all to find out more about the animals she holds so dear. Monique is at her happiest when outdoors and has walked numerous trails across the beautiful New Zealand countryside. Being kind is something she endeavours to achieve every day. A strong advocate for animal rights, Monique believes in equality and justice for all; in being kind, to every kind. A mum to two grown daughters, she now lives in Albany, Auckland with her rescued dog, Darwin and many scraps of paper containing poetry. Monique talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about Be Kind.

In Be Kind, children are faced with an opportunity to show compassion towards others. A diverse range of situations and characters are displayed throughout the book. The children immediately look past their differences (such as age, ethnicity, ability and species) to find creative solutions in order help those in need of support. For extra fun, little Molly Mouse can be found hidden in each spread, quietly observing and learning from the children.

What inspired you to write this book?

An important motivation was for children (and their parents) to become more aware of how we treat others we share this planet with, including different species. We need to extend our kindness out to our peers, and from there out to the natural world.

More so than ever, our lives are full of challenges. We need to equip our children with the tools to thrive in a fast-paced and unpredictable world. Teaching them to deal with situations creatively and from the heart will ensure that they grow up to be thoughtful and compassionate adults. While we are reaching out to support those in need, we are, in effect, creating our own support networks for when our lives take a sudden turn.

What research was involved?

Life experience. I grew up in the apartheid era in South Africa and look back with shame at what took place in such a stunningly beautiful country. Today, the media is ablaze with conflict, prejudice, cruelty, environmental destruction and war. This is all the result of a lack of understanding, compassion and empathy. When it comes to animal welfare, I speak to many people through the course of my activism and see a yawning, obstructing chasm when it comes to extending empathy across the species barrier. Why do we continue to look for difference when our sameness is so apparent?

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

In terms of a routine, I was juggling part-time work, my illustrator’s availability, and the biggest spanner: a worldwide pandemic – so a regular pattern wasn’t developed, it was more about finding any quiet moment I had to create! But it kicked-off one morning at 5am; I groggily formed the rhymes of the first two pages in my head and recorded them in the ever-present notebook and pen next to my bed. I then created the sections; talking kindly, eating kindly, giving kindly, acting kindly and playing kindly, and thought up the scenarios where these behaviours would be brought to the fore. The next step was to form the rhyme and rhythm, adding a suitable beginning and end, and also a little lesson about the tables turning as further food for thought. I had vivid illustrations in my head for each spread – just not the ability to put them on paper.

How did you go about collaborating with the illustrator?

Kwok Yi Lee is not only a brilliant and talented illustrator but happened to have been at university with my daughter and came with her enthusiastic recommendations. I drew (really rough) sketches for each page with stick figures and arrows and instructions and sent them through to him, together with the text. We then met for a coffee where he presented his mock-ups, his schedule for timing and costs and his character developments. The rest was all done by email exchange (he lives in another city) – the presenting of further drafts, the tweaking and dissecting, and finally the test prints. He magically saw right into my head and presented not only what I was after but added his own little quirks and charm to each illustration. I am happy to say, we worked very well together.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

Bright Eyes – Art Garfunkel

Everybody Hurts – R.E.M.

What did you enjoy the most about writing this book?

I enjoyed playing with the words and making them rhyme. Seeing the words come to life so vividly in the beautiful illustrations was awesome. Most importantly, writing this book was a way to get my message across to others. It is a message straight from my heart to the readers’.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I am a major introvert, so I shared some bubbles and snacks with my daughter over a weekend up in the Bay of Islands during the biggest storm to hit NZ in a decade. It was perfect!

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

Man’s search for meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Such a powerful book about the extension of compassion and lessons of hope amidst the darkest atrocities of the Holocaust. The message of potentially having all your freedoms stripped from you, bar the freedom to choose your attitude to a certain situation, was particularly powerful and has remained with me since my first reading of this book.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I’m planning to follow up with another little picture book, with stronger focus on the environment and the need for us to respect and care for it. I can’t wait!

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